By Shannon Leeman
It’s a fact that with age, many women lament that their faces have become squarer and more masculine, with flatter contours, thinner lips, and deeper wrinkles. But it’s not only more ‘mature’ women who sometimes wish to change the contours of their faces – even the highly youthful Kardashian sisters have given their faces more ‘dimension’ thanks to one nearly magical product: Hyaluronic Acid.
Known as nature’s moisturizer, this natural acid is the sponge that holds the volume enhancing water bodies need to maintain health and a youthful appearance. One gram of hyaluronic acid can hold up to a whole quart of water, if you can believe it. Hyaluronic Acid (HA) appears naturally in all mammals and is present in virtually all of your body’s cells. But with age, our HA levels decrease rapidly, and it’s notable due to a sinking of the cheeks and loss of facial shape. Facial fillers using HA can not only ‘correct’ these imbalances, but for more youthful women, it can give them the fuller lips, cheeks and chins they always dreamed of having.
Facial fillers are nothing new. They first made an appearance in the late 1800’s, when physicians used paraffin wax as a filling agent, but this was abandoned after complications included migration and lump formations. More recently, both animal fillers such as bovine collagen and synthetic ones were introduced, resulting in similar horror stories that now litter the Internet.
Today, Restylane and Juvederm are the industry standards for HA fillers, and there have been almost no adverse reactions to them apart from short term swelling or bruising. Products normally last from 6-12 months and costs depend on areas treated and practitioner. But many vegans are concerned: are they injecting animal parts into their faces? The answer to that question is: it depends.
Are Dermal Fillers Vegan Friendly?
Some fillers are great for vegans. For example, Restylane is the first cosmetic dermal filler made of non-animal-based hyaluronic acid, which is good news for any vegetarian or animal activist who cares about their appearance but does not want to participate in a treatment that has been involved with the suffering of animals. The hyaluronic acid used in Restylane is a crystal-clear gel called NASHA – or Non-Animal Stabilized Hyaluronic Acid. NASHA is as natural as it gets: it is biodegradable and fully biocompatible with human hyaluronic acid.
Keeping Restylane free from all animal proteins limits the risk of animal-based disease transmission or allergic reaction that can come about from animal-based products and their occasional complications. Restylane does contain trace amounts of gram-positive bacterial proteins and should not be used by any patients with a history of allergies to such materials. For deeper fillers, Juvaderm is another option. Juvaderm’s website also says that it is a vegan friendly filler. But note: some other filler brands do use animal hyaluronic acid for their fillers, and Juvaderm and Restylane may have been tested on animals depending on the laws in your country, so buyer beware.
How to select your doctor
A well-trained and seasoned practitioner will be able to recreate lost volume working to not just to fill, but to re-shape your face in 3 dimensions. In order to make the injections stable, hyaluronic acid is mixed with an agent such as ether. The less stable (less ether) the mixture, the more quickly the product breaks down and reabsorbs.
Consultant Plastic surgeon Reza Nassab says “with so many different fillers on the market, the practitioner needs to select appropriate fillers for each region. Thinner HA concentration fillers are better suited for areas such as the tear trough (under-eye area). Conversely, one requires a thicker product such as Voluma for areas such as the cheek. There are options for the neck or décolletage such as Restylane Skinboosters that use multiple injections of very small volumes of filler.” Recently we are seeing fillers being used for non-surgical nose jobs to correct irregularities, and even as a kind of ‘thread’ to induce a slight lifting effect around the eyes.
Doctor Gabriela Mercik is famous for her aesthetic eye – she knows how to make a woman more beautiful! But she is also finely attuned to the fact that many women seek animal-free injectables, not only for ethical reasons, but safety ones too – a few years ago, there was much concern that injecting bovine collagen could infect patients with Mad Cow Disease. Doctor Gabriela says: “My patients are my top priority, and I try to choose the medical products that I think work best for them. I use Profilho – which is organic – and Juvaderm. Both are vegan friendly.”
Of course, vegans will want to search for a filler that doesn’t use any animal products. But I must stress: the most important aspect in any procedure is to seriously consider the practitioner not the product. Check all credentials, ensuring your practitioner is trained and qualified as a dermatologist or plastic surgeon, as these specialties have the greatest knowledge of anatomy. Also, as filers are considered a medical device you can check the certification of any product. In the EU, the CE (Conformite European) and in the USA, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), are the accepted approval bodies for filling agents.
Creams and Serums
If you’re needle shy but still want to benefit in a much more subtle way from HA, then there are creams and serums that contain this material, too. While they obviously won’t have the re-shaping effect of injectable fillers, HA creams can help to hydrate and combat signs of aging, but there is some controversy over their efficacy, as some doctors believe the molecules are too large to penetrate the skin deeply. However, Dr Reza Nassab says: “The new generation of low molecular weight HAs may have better penetration through the skin and some small studies have show specific low weight HA topical preparations may reduce wrinkles but larger studies are needed.”
Doctor Gabriela has created a vegan friendly skincare range that includes a mask, serum and cream that contains plant stem cells and botanical growth factors to enhance the skin’s repair mechanism and deliver deep-tissue hydration for up to 3 days. Using microparticles of water allows the products to penetrate more deeply than a regular cream, but not as potentially dangerously deeply (i.e. directly in the blood stream) as nano-particles do.
For other brands, you can pretty much assume if there’s hyaluronic acid, it’s animal derived unless otherwise specified. Moreover, you can also assume all brands have either been tested directly on animals or have ingredients that were tested on animals unless it’s a European brand (where cosmetic animal testing is banned) or markets itself as being cruelty-free. Some vegan friendly brands I’d recommend include:
- Living Luxury Anti Ageing Serum
- All Natural Face
- Natural Hyaluronic Acid Serum
- Radha Beauty Vitamin C + HA Serum
But keep in mind that microparticles of HA such as those in Dr Gabriela’s advanced molecular range will penetrate the skin more deeply and be more effective.
Supplements are another way women try to benefit from hyaluronic acid, but all the capsules I have seen so far are not vegan friendly as they are in gel capsule form, meaning animal parts were used to create the outer gelatin membrane. Moreover, some doctors are at odds with the health food and supplement community on whether HA produces proven results and that supplements absorb in any meaningful way.
More worryingly, the Internet is bursting with diverse opinions on this burgeoning “nutraceutical” market. There have been some claims that there may be a link to high levels of HA in the blood to cancer, but doctors are not saying HA itself causes cancer. The ambiguous data and largely anecdotal evidence suggests the jury is still out on the success of ingesting your skin care. Nutricosmetics are a fairly young industry and regulatory bodies such as EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) are endeavouring to determine whether these supplements are considered a food, medicine or cosmetic.
While the battle rages on with health, ethics and billions of dollars at stake, what we do know is eating well, drinking pure water, regular exercise and a balanced lifestyle are literally our best defence against premature ageing.